Don’t Skip This Important Step When Blanching Your Vegetables

published Jun 8, 2021
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Blanching vegetables — the process of boiling them in hot water to quickly cook them — is “probably the simplest cooking technique there is,” according to Harold McGee. The science-based cooking expert and author of the classic and essential On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, as well as the recent Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells, shared his tips on expertly boiling vegetables in a decade-old video that stands the test of time. One tip from this video stands out as a tip that doesn’t get mentioned commonly in recipes or discussions of the technique. 

He lists a few of the basics to blanching — cooking the vegetables as quickly as possible by using a large pot, using plenty of salt, putting the lid on the pot just a bit ajar. But when he pulls them out of the water, he gives the surprising key tip.

When you pull the vegetables out of the pot, they will be steaming, obviously. “Steaming means that they are losing moisture,” McGee explains. “You can prevent that moisture loss simply by coating them with something that’s waterproof.” Turns out, you probably have something pretty close at hand that fits the bill: a little bit of oil or butter. It keeps vegetables like green beans — which he demonstrates with — from wrinkling (hot tip, aspiring food Instagrammers!), and it keeps the moisture “and the goodness” inside the beans. 

Depending on how you plan to use them, you can alter the type of oil — a light coating of sesame oil is all those green beans need before you eat them over rice, or before using them in a salade Niçoise. For some vegetables, you blanch them before roasting, and this technique gets you one step ahead of the game.